Over the last three weeks we have witnessed the Opposition’s demonstrations seeking to force the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission out of office. During some of the demonstrations, we have witnessed violent protests that have left behind deaths, injuries and destruction of property.
The ugly scenes witnessed around the country remind us of the 2008 post-election violence that nearly brought this country to its knees. A moment when Kenyans turned against each other leading to the death of 1,500 people, the displacement of 650,000 and destruction of property worth billions of shillings.
Scenes of stone throwing youth, police shooting tear gas canisters and barricaded roads are not a sight that any Kenyan should be proud of. These are images that should not be coming from a country that has made major strides in instituting democratic institutions.
It is true that a section of Kenyans have expressed their concerns over the IEBC and its capacity and capability to conduct a free and fair election next year. This is however not an excuse for Kenyans to shelf the rule of law and resort to unlawful ways in dealing with the issue.
The displeasure with the IEBC is not an excuse for Kenyans to go to the streets, steal from others and throw stones at the police or other Kenyans. It is not an excuse to disrupt people’s businesses or disrupt the normalcy of life by blocking roads, motorists and pedestrians.
While it is a constitutionally guaranteed right for Kenyans to picket and petition public institutions, it is unacceptable for people to lose their lives in the process. Expressing displeasure is one thing but when this leads to looting, theft, injuries and deaths, it is important for organizers to re-evaluate their strategies.
It may be important for them to start thinking whether they want the country to burn just because they are not happy with the IEBC. They should now think of how to lawfully have their issues addressed without disrupting normalcy in the country.
During this week’s protests, we saw a clear contrast between where leaders had control and where others allowed lawlessness to rule. In Mombasa, the Cord leaders took control of the situation, calming both the supporters and the police which allowed a peaceful march to the IEBC office to present their petition.
In contrast, Kisumu, Siaya and Nairobi were a different case all together where police were forced to disperse the demonstrators as a way of maintaining peace. This is because some demonstrators had turned violent and were throwing stones at the police and other people.
We must remember that when demonstrations turn into violent protests they become riots which may require some force to quell. Police are there to maintain peace as well as ensure that they help protect lives and property and may be forced to use some force when necessary. Police can thus disperse protesting citizens legally when they identify danger to lives and property.
However, police must also be cautious not to use excessive force when dealing with protesters, some of whom may be using the opportunity to provoke them. Police must ensure that their actions are beyond reproach as police brutality is something that cannot be acceptable to anyone.
A lot of effort has gone to reforming the police by equipping them and they must take this as a vote of confidence. Kenyans therefore trust them to act right when they are in the cause of their duties especially when people are demonstrating.
But at the end of the day, we must all agree that this country needs all of us and no one should die because of our disagreements. We must learn to deal with our differences within the confines of the law as well as in a sober manner.
Let us express ourselves without causing violence which may lead to destruction of our country or the loss of lives. As we move to the 2017 elections we must work towards having a more cohesive country.
(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)